Should you shoot in RAW?

Yes. Yes. Yes. And Yes again.

I can only think of 3 reasons why you wouldn’t shoot in RAW.

1. Your camera doesn’t have the capability.
2. You don’t have enough storage capacity.
3. You want to load your shots to the internet quickly and don’t have the software to convert the file.

Look to the Right
Look to the Right

Some of you may have other reasons, and it would be great to hear them.

SmileI have read so many articles preaching the mantra “Always shoot in RAW”. To me there seem to be very few rules in photography that need to be adhered to. What I mean by this is that rules always stifle people’s creativity. If we look at the “Rule of Thirds”. Personally I think this is an excellent rule, but we have all seen many, many superb shots where that rule is broken. There are those who profess what correct settings you should use on your camera for each type of shot. This makes me wonder, why would camera manufacturers spend millions working on development so that the user can use the myriad of settings that they make available.

The BikerWith the top 3 reasons, I think there is no reason for No.2 today, due to the low cost of cards, apart from being inadvertently left with a small card and no replacement on a shoot. But I still speak to people who shoot in jpg mode, and wonder why? Quite often they say it is because they only have a small memory card. Go out and buy more! Spending £500 to £1000 on a camera, then silly amounts for straps, bags and other accessories, when a 32Gb card costs under £20, is just plain silly. It’s like having a high performance car, with a highly tuned engine, and putting in supermarket fuel. Use the camera to its full potential.

I think another reason I hear why people don’t use RAW, is that they are novices and don’t understand RAW. Please take the time to educate them.

Good FriendsI don’t fully understand the RAW format and I believe that most people don’t, they just know that is the best format to save your shots. They are the digital negative. Once you have it you can make as many copies as you want, and do whatever manipulation you want and that negative is still exactly the same. All the colour information is stored so that it can be retrieved.

I like to think about RAW v’s jpg like a reference book. The book is pristine and thousands of people can read it to glean the information. One person uses a highlighter or writes in that book making notes and scribbling things out, and it becomes harder to read, some of the information you want is missing, and in the end others add there notes and it becomes useless.


So why am I revisiting this old argument of the benefits of RAW when it has been covered so many times? So that others realise the virtues of shooting in RAW, and what is probably the best virtue, covering up the users mistakes. It doesn’t matter what level of photography you are at, we have all made mistakes in photography. Anybody who tells you any different is a liar. How many people have gone out on a shoot and have left the battery in the charger, left the card in the adapter. Not charged the battery. Forgotten to take a spare battery or card.

The GreetingThen we come to the settings. Setting up the camera incorrectly. This is what gave me the idea for the post. Well not actually setting it up incorrectly, more inadvertently changing them. I’ll make myself clear. On Saturday after leaving work, I went into Cardiff for a shoot. I had kept my camera with me in work in my bag. On leaving work I took it out and put it in the glove compartment of my car. When arriving at the train station I took it out and went on the shoot. When arriving home and downloading the images to the computer I noticed that there were a lot of images that were very bright. On further inspection I noticed that they were all shot at 1/640th. I checked my camera and saw straight away that the camera was set to Manual Exposure. Somewhere along the line, before starting the shoot, I had inadvertently knocked the dial from Aperture Priority which I always shoot on to Manual. As I keep the settings the same I never chimp. I don’t see the need as due to the nature of Street, once the shot is taken the moment has gone so you cannot change the settings and take it again, and I never have any problems.

Plenty of Empty Seats
Plenty of Empty Seats

The ironic thing is, I was with Nikonsnapper, and we bumped into 4d Photo Images, whilst out and Ian introduced us. He asked me what settings I use and I told him, but I didn’t show him or look myself.

All the shots above are from this shoot and you can see that through using RAW I was able to save them. OK you would be able to make some adjustments to jpg files but not to the degree I was able to, and most likely they would have been unusable. This is why I say to shoot in RAW.

Below are examples of what I was able to achieve using Photoshop, which is the program I always use. Photographers who are more experienced or knowledgeable with their preferred software, may have been able to get even better results, but these are fine for me, until I acquire those skills.

Shot 1 – Original RAW file
Flower Headband Raw
Shot 1 – After adjustments of the RAW File with Camera Raw
Flower Headband Raw Adjusted
Shot 1 – After adjustments in Photoshop
Flower Headband
Shot 1 – The reason I didn’t save as a B&W, was the reason I took the shot, her hair!
Flower Headband BW

Shot 2 – Original RAW file
Relaxed on the Bench Raw
Shot 2 – After adjustments of the RAW File with Camera Raw
Relaxed on the Bench Raw Adjusted
Shot 2 – After adjustments in Photoshop
Relaxed on the Bench
I didn’t attempt B&W with this shot as the jacket was so blown out.

So the moral of the tale is shoot in RAW. There are so many more adjustments you can make with the RAW file. If you make a stupid mistake like I did by not periodically checking, there will be a much better chance of saving your shots.

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11 thoughts on “Should you shoot in RAW?

  1. Julián del Nogal

    Your are right with your RAW arguments, Wayne… can overexpose two or three points of diaphragm shooting in RAW, all the information is inside and can be recovered with optimal results.

  2. This is my favorite post of yours so far. I never really gave much thought to the whole RAW vs JPEG debate because it has been talked about so much. I figured it was similar to the digital vs. film debates, but as usual, you explain things in a way that is actually interesting instead of just reciting dry, dusty old explanations.

    I agree that rules are made to be broken. I like your ideas on camera manufacturers spending so much money on development so the photographer is able to set their camera to whatever settings they feel would best capture the mood they are trying to achieve. That’s a very good point because when I was first starting out, I was reading up on how to achieve certain affects for certain shots. At first I liked how they came out, but as I started to get more familiar with my camera and the settings, I found that for me personally, another combination worked better.

    I really like your analogies on the benefits of shooting in RAW. It’s definitely something to think about. My own reasons for shooting JPEGS is that it’s the way that I’ve always done it since I first started shooting. I guess old habits can be hard to break.

    I’m glad you posted the before and after shots of editing your RAW shots. You’ve convinced me. The difference really is striking. It’s one of the problems that I have with my shots. I’ve had to get rid of a lot of shots that would have been really good or interesting because the corrections I was doing didn’t enhance the photo, and in fact, made it look a little strange, such as giving skin tones a weird, orange hue to them.

    As for the pictures, I loved the Ninjah shot. His mask and hair were just so interesting. “Plenty of Empty Seats” is my favorite. I wonder if he was waiting for someone, lonely, or just lost in thought.

  3. I’m glad my arguments for RAW were so convincing Tina. I could never shoot in jpg. I would have lost nearly every shot in this post.

    So I hope you have now altered those settings. I will be checking. You wonder how? I am sending a special envoy over to New York to check. She will be there in a few weeks and the report had better be good! 🙂

  4. Well, I think it’s my turn to give my opinion 😉
    I read carefully your post Justard and there is nothing I can refute. Your pictures are the best arguments.
    But, there is a but… I am like Tina, I started by JPEG and I am still JPEG… Of course, it is not because of the price of the memory cards. I read a lot of photographs speaking about raw, and I understand why it is important.
    Right now, I think I did not pass to raw yet because I belive my computer is not powerful enough. Maybe it is a stupid idea… each photo would be heavier and if I want to send it by mail or load it to the internet, I would have to change the size of every photo. Well, I have to learn more about it.
    I use a simple program, windows live, for 80% of my shots and it works well if you use it correctly (I mean if the JPEG is not too much overexposed, and if you don’t “push the cursors too much”.
    When I want a better correction, I use photofiltre, or lightroom, or sometimes gimp…

    You know what ? if I met Tina, I promess I will try a few shots in raw ! what do you think about it, Tina ? ready for the challenge ?!

    • Esther I think it is not understanding RAW that is probably the issue. I said I don’t fully understand it.

      When you shoot in RAW, all the colour information is stored. If you look at the man in the bleached out photo you can see what I mean. Even though the colours were gone in the shot, they were stored in the RAW file.

      You wouldn’t send the RAW file by internet or upload it to the internet Esther. If you look at all my shots on the Blog and in Flickr they are all jpg files. I believe that Flickr and my Blog won’t be able to read the RAW file. In my case it is a NEF, that is Nikon’s RAW format. I convert it into a jpg, and the RAW file is still there on my computer untouched!

      So when you upload or email the photo it will be a jpg. Basically a jpg copy of the NEF.

      Esther & Tina, if you get to meet, promise me you will both take 10 or 20 shots in RAW format and then process them when you get home and really play with the sliders to see what you get.

      The software you need should have come with your camera or you can do it in Lightroom.

      2 converts in the making I think!

      • Esther, I accept your challenge! 😀 I think it will be fun to shoot in a format that is completely unfamiliar to both of us.

        Wayne, I actually went out today for a short walk to take pictures. It had rained earlier today and the sky was extremely dark, so I didn’t wander too far from my home. (I was actually near where a tour of yours might meet, Esther.) Anyway, I pulled a muscle in my lower back (reaching for something, lol) so I took the pictures in the style that you do, sitting down and observing others who sat down. When I got them on my computer, I noticed that they were a lot sharper than the jpegs. I do have a question. How do you convert them to jpeg format? I normally do my editing in Aperture (a Mac program). I have Photoshop, but since I don’t really do a lot of editing, I stick to Aperture.

        • Ooops. I meant to write that I took pictures in RAW today just to practice.

  5. Just right click on the photo then “Open with Photoshop”. That is with windows and Camera Raw will open. Do your playing and then click “Open Image” and it will open in Photoshop ready for more editing!

  6. Wayne
    There is another compelling reason for using RAW instead of Jpeg, apart from the ones you have already mentioned. Every time you copy or save a Jpeg file, you lose information. This is because it compresses the file when it saves it, taking out some of the information. The term lossy is used with Jpeg. Other file types are lossless (Tiff and Pdf). So if you modify a Jpeg file and save it, then maybe send it to someone or open it again and maybe notice a blemish and alter it again, each time it is re-opened, you lose information and hence detail. This doesn’t happen with RAW files or TIFF files.
    Sorry if this sounds complicated, but google Jpeg lossy or lossless and see what you get.

    • No Ian I completely understand it and my omission in not putting it in. Thank you for pointing it out. Another positive to add to the many good points of using RAW.

      You could run a more thorough knowledgeable article on this on your blog Ian

    • That’s a very good argument for shooting in RAW. If I hadn’t switched already, I would definitely do so after reading what you wrote.

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